The Life of a Query Letter

Authors, it’s time for another session of Publishing Secrets from Jordan. This one is about that query letter you’re writing or spent lots of blood, sweat, and tears making perfect.

Here it is.

Once you’ve signed with an agent, your query letter NEVER DIES!

Want to know what I’m talking about? Let’s hear from literary agent extraordinaire Lindsay Ribar!

If a query letter is good enough to have caught my eye in the first place, chances are good that I’ll at least use key phrases from it, if not an edited version of the entire plot description, for my pitch letter.

Many agents I know pull from an author’s query letter for the pitch letter sent to editors when a book goes on submission. But that’s not the end of the life of a query. Now it’s the editors turn!

Before I make an acquisition, I have to convince my publisher, along with the sales and marketing team, why we should publish a book and what makes it special. Obviously, if I love a book, I’ll have a clear idea of what to say, but I always look back at the pitch letter to get inspiration for my own “pitch” to the decision makers.

I always have to find comp titles for any manuscript I want to acquire. While I often come up with additional comps, the first comps I encounter are the ones from the pitch letter. Chances are, your agent came up with their initial comp titles by looking at your query.

OK. Good news. Your query got you an agent! WAHOO! Their pitch helped the editor buy the book. CONGRATS! Think we’re done with your query letter? NOPE!

Now it’s time to convince booksellers and reviewers to pick up the book by writing catalog and sales copy! Where does that come from? The editor’s own pitch to the sales and marketing team! See where I’m going with this? Your query is still alive and well. At this point, the comp titles and what makes this book stand out from the rest are featured in the copy. And what makes YOU, the author, special.

The last stop on your query’s tour of the publishing industry is cover copy. By the time an editor is writing copy, you will probably only see hints of of query, but there is a good chance part of it is still alive and kicking in your book’s cover/jacket copy.

So there you have it. Your query goes beyond so much more than getting the attention of an agent. It will live with your debut until it ends up on the shelf. No matter how frustrated you may get as you write and revise your query, remember to love it. It will be with you for your entire publishing debut journey.


11 Responses to The Life of a Query Letter

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Feb 19 2014 at 8:56 am #

    Excellent post, and a valuable insight into the actual life cycle. I’ve written my own cover blurbs (self-defense, mostly), and the query is considerably more difficult to write than that. It has to be so many things to so many people.

    • thejordache Feb 19 2014 at 3:51 pm #

      Thanks! I’m glad the post was valuable!

  2. Adam Silvera Feb 19 2014 at 10:46 am #

    My query SUCKED. I spoiled the BIG TWIST in the first couple of lines. And I think this perspective would’ve been a useful tool when I was writing mine. Great post, Jordan!

    • thejordache Feb 19 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      Thanks, Adam!

  3. K Marthaler Feb 19 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Thank you, Jordan for these industry insights. Would you be willing to comment about what is right and wrong with my query letter?

    Dear xxx.

    Enclosed please find Rena’s new book, “Magic: The Crest.”

    This 128-page novel was released on Amazon and locally in Portland, Oregon on January 23. Within a week, a prominent local bookstore began carrying it at their front display table, and it is now in high demand at local elementary schools. In a January 31 book review blog post, Portland’s Wallace Books likens reading “Magic: The Crest” to falling under the spell of Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling’s books.

    The author is nine years old, in fourth grade, and she wrote the book in 30 days as part of NaNoWriMo, a national writing competition. It was not edited, only proofread for spelling and formatting.

    Wallace Books says it best – “Magic: The Crest” is the fantastical, fast-paced adventure story of four friends who discover they have magical powers and follow a prophecy to Oregon. It features five strong female protagonists, and a cast of young characters and mythical creatures encountered on their quest.

    It seems that with proper exposure, this novel would be in the hands of tween readers across the country. I’m excited for you to read it, and hope you, too, will succumb to the magic.

    Best regards,

  4. Alexa S. Feb 19 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I enjoyed reading this post! I think it’s seriously awesome how a good query goes a long way in the industry 🙂

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